Churchill was a product of his time. Were he making verbal observations today–in an era that has known the likes of Margaret Thatcher, Theresa May, Nikki Haley, Angela Merkel, Golda Meir, Indira Gandhi, Hillary Clinton, et alia–he would surely have amended his words about words. Nonetheless, he has a point. Little words work.

Need a theme for your next meeting? Need a familial rallying cry? A slogan for your fellow tailgaters during football season? Want to inspire co-workers with a phrase for goal-setting? Looking for a principle to guide your everyday actions? Want your product to be easily remembered? 

Try creating a simple, mostly monosyllabic phrase—a new, inspirational angle or perspective that’s easy to remember and easy to follow, one that encourages others to try, to stretch, to reach, to buy. Here’s how.

Limit the number of words. Regard these short phrase as “try-angles.” In other words, encourage people to “try” with them. And keep in mind another meaning:  the prefix “tri,” meaning “three,” dictates the length of your exhortation. Keep your motivational message down to three or four words if you can.

Choose short words. If you’ve any doubt at all about the big pull of little words, consider these:

Martin Luther King, Jr., “I have a dream.”

Mother Teresa: “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.”

Sam Walton: “Eliminate the dumb.”

John F. Kennedy: “Ask not what your country can do for you.”

Black Elk, Oglala Sioux holy man: “The life of man is a circle.”

Twyla Tharp: “Art is the only way to run away without leaving home.”


By contrast, consider the non-pull of big words. “It is neither ameliorative of one’s current reality nor advantageous for reification of the future to garner the totality of one’s gallinaceous assemblage into a singular receptacle fabricated from the smaller extrusions of a large perennial plant that possesses a primary stem from which multiple outgrowths occur” doesn’t motivate at all. “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket” does. 


As you develop your monosyllabic message, attune yourself to other messages that have withstood the test of time—primarily because they have a limited number of words and those words are monosyllabic in nature. See what we mean by taking the following test. Identify the try-angle expressed in each of the following ten clues.

1. A backfiring presidential promise not to raise taxes____________________

2. An exhortation befitting Emily Post, Letitia Baldrige or your mom________________

3. A pronoun-vague recommendation from a sportswear firm_________________

4. An alliterative architectural axiom ____________________________

5. Caesar’s explanation for how to rule a defeated nation__________________

6. W. Edwards Deming’s advice for improving workplace morale_________________

7. Hope-driven message from Britain’s leader during World War II _________________

8. Message for youth from a star-connected First Lady________________

9. First part of LeRoy Satchel’s Paige message that ends with “Something may be

gaining on you” ______________

10. Military-inspired statement that means “Win unconditionally” _____________


You can gain practice  saying what you mean in a way that inspires fairly easily. In a long-ago interview for my first book (The Language of Leadership), I asked Lee Iacocca what constituted such language. His reply: “Strong, simple words that tell people things they don’t want to hear. It’s a leader’s job,” he asserted, “to get people to believe things they don’t want to believe, and then to go out and do things they don’t want to do.”

such faith- or action-reluctance will not be part of every influence situation, it is part of a great
many. If you are in a formal or informal leadership position, know the words you choose will either invite
involvement in the change you hope to effect or the words  will distance your followers
from it. In fashioning an inspirational message, begin by thinking of what you wish you could say. Then
reflect on what you want to happen and what you don’t want to happen. Finally,
fashion a message, using strong and simple words, that touches upon what others may not want to hear or believe. If you are successful, your message–in keeping with Iacocca’s emphasis–will be persuasive
enough to get others to do things they may not want to do. 


If you have any doubt about the popularity of three-word phrases, try Googling “quotes with little words.” You’ll find 631 million entries. Need further proof of the universal appeal of try-angled inspiration?

Answers.   Read my lips. 2. Mind your manners. 3. Just do it. 4. Form follows function. 5. Divide and conquer. 6. Drive out fear. 7. Never give up. 8. Just say no. Don’t look back. 10. Take no prisoners.